I was oblivious to this until it was brought into focus by viewing two videos. One was the full length film, The Social Dilemma, and the other was a Ted Talk featuring Cal Newport titled, Why You Should Quit Social Media.” Cal also happens to be the author of Deep Work- Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.
Like the frog in the pan (sorry about the stream of clichés), I have become so slowly and thoroughly immersed in the world of social media that I hardly noticed the fact until it was pointed out to me, first by my family and then by the above videos. My immersion became so all-encompassing that my family literally staged an intervention. They felt that my involvement in social media was not only wasting time, it was adversely affecting friendships, how others saw me, and even caused them to dislike my personality as they saw it on my social media posts.
I have long bemoaned the disappearance of civil discourse in the U.S. as of late. It seems we cannot have an exchange of different ideas without rancor or personal attacks. Like Dennis Prager, I value clarity, even over agreement. Nowadays, it seems we have neither. I am embarrassed to discover that, despite my efforts to avoid this, I have too often surrendered to the temptation to offer the smarmy riposte or sarcastic reply to an opinion or position I disagree with. I have engaged in endless arguments with friends and even “friends” on Facebook in which it is clear from the outset that we will never come to an agreement. The result is that I would often leave my social media sessions frustrated, dissatisfied, and sometimes depressed. Even so, like a drug addict, who knows the drug is bad for them, but cannot resist returning to it over and over, I would return to the social media fray to re-engage, sometimes within minutes of leaving the site.
That is addictive behavior to a “T”. According to the experts, it is built into social media. According to The Social Dilemma, the term “user” is uniquely applied to social media and drug addiction.
I am the king of distractedness, a classic case of fairly severe ADHD. I never knew this, or how it explained my lifelong distractibility, inattentiveness, fidgetiness, and failure to follow through in project after project, until I was 45 years old. By then, the die was cast. My effort to medicate yielded mixed results because of unpleasant side effects of the usual medications for ADHD and I decided that I have made it this far, so I may as well continue as I am, sans meds.
Social media is both a boon and a bust for me. A boon in that I have found a way to stay connected with a wider group of family and friends than ever, but a bust in that it draws me away from productive work for hours at a time; hours that I will never get back. At work, I find myself checking social media between patients, just to see who has commented on a post, who has posted, how many likes I have received on a post, and spent time I do not have commenting on the posts of others which stir my interest or outrage. I am amazed how many others do the same. This is what we have come to, what I have come to.
The question for me becomes: now that I have achieved this moment of self-awareness and clarity, what do I do? Do I completely disengage? Do I accept that this is life in the new millennium, simply surrender to it, and go with the flow? Is there some way to salvage what I love about social media yet discard what I have learned is bad for me? I don’t know; it is early and I am working on this. What I do know is that I cannot move forward with this newfound knowledge without making substantial changes. What form those will take remains to be seen.
With many more years behind me than ahead, I want my life to count and I do not see hours spent on social media as something I will look back on with pride and a sense of accomplishment. Therefore, I expect there will be some fairly radical changes to my involvement on Facebook and Twitter, my two “drugs of choice”. Rather than quitting cold turkey, there will definitely be some element of disengagement, starting with eliminating notifications and consciously staying off of them during my working day. Baby steps……….
Richard T. Bosshardt, MD